Based on the racist novels of Thomas Dixon and considered one of the best films ever made, this D.W. Griffin classic is also infamous for its anti-Black sentiment and implied approval of lynching and Jim Crowism.

When it was released in 1915, it sparked numerous protest demonstrations from Black Americans who feared the general public's perception of Black Americans would be shaped by the celluloid medium. The NAACP stepped up their effort and some scenes from the film were cut but it still became a huge box office success.

The three hour film documents the fall of the South during the Civil War and white political domination over the interracial state governments of the Reconstruction era.

The film originally ran with the title The Clansman and the Ku Klux Klan were the clear heroes of the movie. The most horrific scene is probably the one where the newly freed slaves are trying to break into their former master's house to ravish the innocent young white women trapped inside, while the Ku Klux Klansmen, in white robes on noble steeds, speed to the rescue. Just a little bit inflammatory. Incredibly, the film is still used as a recruitment piece by the KKK.

I think very few people would consider this a great film. What you do hear is people referring to it as a landmark film. It pioneered a number of new cinematic techniques and innovations including subtitles, night photography (using magnesium flares), the use of outdoor landscape as background, the technique of the camera "iris" effect, the use of parallel action in a chase sequence, use of tinting for dramatic effect, traveling or "panning" camera tracking shots, the use of total-screen close-ups to reveal dramatic facial expressions, and the use of fade-outs. Not to mention at three hours it was the longest film that had ever been made.

Though it hardly excuses Birth of a Nation, D. W. Griffith was a little chagrined by all the protests, and re-released a shortened version of the film without references to the KKK. He also tried to redeem his political reputation with his next project, Intolerance.

Birth of a Nation is primarily useful in apprehending the fashion in which the South constructed its cultural myths. As W.J. Cash has noted, the inaccuracy of the South's self-created identity in no way diminished its effect on the South's political and cultural evolution.

Most notably, Birth of a Nation evinces the bizarre intersection of racism and gender anxiety in the South. Lillian Smith, in Killers of the Dream, noted that slaveholders were often inclined to enjoy the "psychosexual vigor" of the slave women, and though the stereotyping of blacks as more organic and physically charged than whites is problematic, such was the perception of whites at the time (p. 117). The slave owner would then feel extremely guilty around his wife, and consequently elevated her onto a pedestal of ideal virtue and purity, and this was the source of the myth of the Southern woman, for the sake of whom all manner of racist and politically reactionary violence were ostensibly enacted.

W.J. Cash believed that white males thus came to (1) equate the Southern woman with the South as a threatened but noble culture, worth killing for, and also to (2) project their own sins onto the black male, whom they suspected of great sexual acumen and a tendency to rape white women. That statistics indicate a very low incidence of black men raping white women was irrelevant: in the gender-skewed and racist Reconstruction period, white men felt guilty and frightened, anxious and hateful.

Birth of a Nation demonstrates many of these moronic stereotypes without irony. A recently freed black man, provoked by a Yankee carpetbagger, attempts to rape the noble, pure white sister of the protagonist; virtuously preferring death over dishonor, she leaps off of a cliff and dies, at which point her brother, moved apparently by duty and honor, forms the Ku Klux Klan to protect the symbol of the South: the Southern Belle.

Idiotic though it is, the movie's un-ironic depiction of these myths and narrative archetypes is fascinating in its transparency. Presented are the unmitigated fears and hysterical, sentimental neuroses of the turn-of-the-century South.

The Birth of a Nation is an epic conceived entirely by DW Griffith and while making this film he used no notes or script. The film is rightly considered a landmark film with the epic battle scene filmed in only one day and for a film of 1915 the battle scene was wonderfully modern at the time.

Unfortunately the film contains scenes which are simply not acceptable in todays social society and anyone watching the film today will be understandably shocked by the racial intolerance it shows, with KKK men shown to be heroes. Black actors parts in the film are portrayed by white men with black shoe polish on the faces. There are some scenes such as the said actors having their mouths stuffed with bananas and the film goes on managing to fit in Griffith's racist views at many points; incidentally the L.A premiere featured klansmen in full robes to publicize the film.

No matter the content the film's takings were one of the highest ever for a silent film with world-wide success. Some figures at the time quoted the takings at $50 million but these seem far too high with takes of $5-10 million seeming far more accurate

The film for the first half of it plays well and there is nothing too disturbing, it is after the half way stage where the racist views come to the fore-front of the film.

The film is originally a tale of two families during the American Civil War, with events such as Lincoln's assassination and the rise of the Klan also featuring. The film is Griffith's interpretation of the rise of the U.S.A, and although not accurate and despite the content, this film must be watched, with a strong stomach, by anyone with an avid interest in film-making or film history.

This is a film which gave other directors the opportunity to enhance their films and it pushed the boundaries of film making more than any film before it. Only a few films can be credited with this, Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey another example. This film left a legacy good and bad and must be watched to be truly understood.

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